Odd Side Ales goes all in on hard seltzer, and it’s paying off
Most microbreweries around Michigan have tip-toed into the hard seltzer game since White Claw boomed in summer 2019, releasing a craft seltzer here and there to go with a smorgasbord of beers.
But not Odd Side Ales. It’s gone all in.
“In Michigan, it’s impossible (to keep up),” said Wes O’Leary, head of sales for the Grand Haven-based brewery. “We’re allocating water, basically. It’s fun.”
Odd Side Ales has for years been one of Michigan’s most prominent craft breweries, pumping out 10,000 barrels a year of flavorful, experimental concoctions, from the popular coffee blonde Bean Flicker to the award-winning, barrel-aged Rye Hipster Brunch Stout.
But as hard seltzers have taken hold in the alcoholic beverage market the past 18 months as a health-conscious, gluten-free alternative to light beer and mixed drinks, Odd Side began experimenting and perfecting its own hard seltzer recipe, fermenting straight sugar, adding a yeast that would give it character, and testing different flavorings – a lot of different flavorings.
The result is a line of nearly two dozen hard seltzers that are drawing rave reviews from even beer enthusiasts and can’t stay on store shelves long enough for Odd Side Ales to keep up, forcing the 10-year-old microbrewery to add six 60-barrel fermenters to its production facility in just the past two months, with another three coming by the end of the year. The goal in 2021 is to continue brewing the standard 10,000 barrels of beer … while also brewing 15,000 barrels of hard seltzer.
If we’re talking sheer production alone, by 2018 in-state sales data, that would vault Odd Side Ales into the Top 5 of Michigan’s largest microbreweries.
“We’re at the tip of the iceberg,” O’Leary said. “We’re just trying to maintain through the rest of the year with what we’ve got, tank space-wise, before this expansion.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty strong part of Odd Side for quite some time.”
Odd Side Ales began brewing craft seltzer last fall under the “Elevate” brand, dabbling with a 7%-ABV recipe using black cherry, tangerine and strawberry lime flavors. But after some trademark issues with the branding and more trial-and-error with the recipe, it settled with “Odd Side Hard Seltzer” and 5% ABV, similar to White Claw and Truly.
For head brewer Eric Janson, who’s suddenly pivoting from brewing beer to also brewing seltzer, it was important to get the recipe just right.
“When something comes along that looks like it has some legs, you have to be able to jump on it and do it well,” Janson said. “There’s a lot of people making seltzer right now, and a lot of it isn’t great.”
Added O’Leary: “We were kind of going Willy Wonka with it in small batches and just seeing what the feedback was.”
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Odd Side continued mixing it up with different flavors on tap at its popular Grand Haven brewpub until March, when it felt comfortable enough to can and distribute its seltzers to stores. But that plan coincided with the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing Michigan bars and restaurants to shut their doors and stick to take-out and delivery for nearly three months.
Odd Side Ales wasn’t immune to the challenge; much of its profits come from the brewpub. But with alcohol sales shifting from bar taps to stores during the lockdown, it found a new opportunity.
“We could just pump out packages and get immediate feedback because the stores were so busy,” O’Leary said. “It was prime real estate for us to test the waters without going all in on a certain flavor or two.”
In short, the seltzers have been a hit. Odd Side Ales has sold about 20,000 cases of seltzer since May 1 and released more than 20 different flavors, from basic offerings such as Black Cherry, Grapefruit and Mango to more complex libations such as POG (passionfruit orange guava), Lemon Elderflower and Mojito.
And unlike the White Claws and Trulys of the world, they’re bold in flavor yet remain refreshing. Take Fuzzy Navel, for example: Its sweet, strong peach notes with hints of orange through the crisp finish make it one of Odd Side…
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